Latitude Festival 2008: The Theatre and Comedy Stuff

Talking ofoutlandish personas, Rich Hall returned to the stage as Otis LeeCrenshaw drawing an expectant crowd.

Rarely set loose on a TVaudience, Crenshaw is a Tennessee ex-con, seven times married, eachtime to a different Brenda. Actually less amusing than Hall in hisreal skin, the scripted parts of the act are often lacklustre,centring around easy targets for the Deep South (racism, countrymusic, inbreeding, the Baptist church, Ned Beatty being buggered by atoothless hick in Deliverance – you get the picture).
Far better isthe lengthy improvised sections in the second half of the set, withHall riffing endlessly on the daily lives of the same unfortunatecouple in the front row. Oh, and the song about the George Foremangrill is darn good (“If you won’t cook my dinner, George Foremanwill”).

If all this sounds a bit light-hearted, there was, like, properserious stuff as well. Sociologist Mark Steel delivers acharming monologue to the literary crowd on Friday, centred around amission to rescue Karl Marx from symbolic monolithic status andinstead portray him as the fallible, lovable, impecunious boozer thathe apparently was.

But this being a Mark Steel lecture, staying on thesame subject for long is never on the cards, and so are led through aserious of pleasant anecdotes about the ludicrousness of infightingamong the Far Left, a run-in between Tony Benn and Susannah York, andsome refreshing philosophical points about embracing change andmaintaining the ability to dream. In the hands of a less likeablefellow this could be trite; instead it’s pretty inspirational.

Poet-du-jour Simon Armitage delivered two sets, one of bookreadings and one of poetry, reciting one about his “first steps onplanet sex”. For someone who could easily be cocksure, he’s asurprisingly down to earth compere, despite much of his work notstriking to much of a chord.

At the Poetry Arena (arena you ask? No – just another tent),entertainingly prefixed by Joel Stickley‘s half-rapped verseplayed for much-deserved laughs, and Tim Turnbull‘s surrealslam poetry, Carol Ann Duffy takes to the stage.

Readings fromthe feted World’s Wife anthology are no less welcome for theirfamiliarity, using figures such as Mrs Midas and Mrs Aesop to prickthe foibles of their husbands, and by association, men in general. Butthis was no wanton man-bashing: Duffy’s skill lies in her ability toslip the knife in with the loveliest of smiles. The Rapture showcasesher more conventional love poetry; a deeply moving counterpoint to thedistant pounding of the rock stages.

If we’ve noticed one trend here (and, even through the beer haze,there were a couple, ok?) it’s the rise of a socially-conscious groupof young, white, female poets. Both Katie Tempest andDockers MC are young, chavvy and literate, and Tempest inparticular, who rhymes about the pressures of being a female MC in amale-driven world AND Sophocles is a revelation. Her set is easily onof the most surprising, and thrilling of the weekend, even if nervesdo threaten to overcome her at times.

Decadence at Latitude means a lot more than throwing a couple ofpills down your neck and washing them down with Somerset cider. TheCabaret Arena comes alive every evening at around midnight, taking usinto a host of demi-mondes.Friday night sees the VauxhallTavern crowd take over with dancing, lip-synching bears(Bearlesque, anyone?) and a terrifying Kate Bush impersonator (hairy,butch, head peeping out of a Punch & Judy stand, tiny puppet armswaving). The Beautiful and the Damned DJs recreate a 1920sspeakeasy on Saturday night, and I’m told that later the same eveningsomeone had themselves suspended from the roof on meat hooks. All inthe name of the caaaa-baaaar-ay, you understand.

To repeat a phrase – we could go on. There’s just too damn much totake in, especially if you also like to, well, see some music.Latitude is easily the best cultural festival we’ve attended outsidethe Hay, and Glastonbury should be looking over its shoulderworriedly.


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